Whether it be in the world of sports, politics, and even poker, the best rivalries are often the ones that pit two polar opposites against one another. In poker, we have witnessed on multiple occasions how match-ups between vastly different players can elicit a truly special spectacle. The timid Greg Raymer facing off against the vocal Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. Tenured pro Sammy Farha playing head’s-up against recreational satellite winner Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. YouTube king Doug Polk and poker legend Daniel Negreanu settling their beef by playing on PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel. The poker world loves a good rivalry, and with an assortment of accusations, call-outs, and of course tweets, the latest high stakes poker match between Matt Berkey and Nikhil “Nik Airball” Arcot has captured the entire industry’s attention.
How We Got Here: Nik Airball Accuses Matt Berkey Of Scamming
Since first appearing on the popular Hustler Casino Live (HCL) stream, Nik Airball has quickly become a prominent villain in the live-streamed poker space. While the source of Nik Airball’s funds may never be fully confirmed (he has labeled himself the beneficiary of a trust fund while also saying he is an investment banker), he always comes with the money necessary to splash around and cover every player at the table.
Taking on all challengers in high stakes cash games streamed on HCL as well as The Lodge Poker Club in Austin, Texas, Nik Airball has made a point of taking shots at some of poker’s best. Bluffing Dan “Jungleman” Cates while calling him “his b*****”, accusing high stakes cash game legend Garrett Adelstein of using his standing to keep him out of lucrative games, wherever Nik Airball goes he seems to find a way to make enemies out of long-established poker players. Recently, Nik Airball has set his sights on another accomplished pro, leading to a high stakes, head’s-up showdown currently unfolding in Las Vegas.
The calm before the storm. Matt Berkey (left) and Nik Airball (middle) seen playing high stakes cash
at The Bellagio days prior to their head’s-up match
Unlike Nik Airball, high stakes cash game player Matt Berkey is not usually one for the trash talk at the poker table. Although he is certainly vocal and quick to give his opinion, Berkey taps into his years of experience as a professional poker player when weighing in on topics via his Twitter account and the popular Only Friends podcast. Yes, it is not uncommon for Matt Berkey to have public rows with players and personalities in the poker space, but even the most casual poker fan can easily see the differences between the Pennsylvania native and Hustler Live’s resident villain. The poker pro who grinded his way to the top versus the boisterous bully who leveraged his wealth into becoming a presence in the space, you could not pick two better characters to have a head’s-up grudge match.
Although Berkey and Nik Airball’s paths into the poker industry greatly differ, recent statements from Airball have caused said paths to cross. Airball had been campaigning for a head’s-up match against Berkey for some time, but it wasn’t until he called out the pro during an appearance on Doug Polk’s YouTube channel that the HCL regular finally got his foe to take the bait. Accusing Berkey of being a “scammer” who “runs a training site but can’t beat the games”, Airball said just enough to make the high stakes pro take him up on his offer to play head’s-up. Not only did both poker players continue to exchange words online in the lead-up to their match, they also had somewhat of a physical altercation at Bobby’s Room in the Bellagio.
Video courtesy of @Darrrkus
Clearly, both of these poker players do not like each other in the slightest. Stepping in to serve as a mediator for the intense, high stakes showdown, professional poker player Phil Galfond brokered the following stipulations for the match-up…
Matt Berkey vs Nik Airball Stakes and Stipulations
Location: Resorts World in Las Vegas, Nevada
Buy-In: $100k minimum (no maximum)
Session Schedule: 3 sessions each week, taking place on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays
Session Length: 6.5 hours each session
Total Match Length: 100 hours
Quitting Stipulation: Either player can quit if down $1,000,000
MIA/Quitting Stipulation $10,000 penalty for missing a session or quitting early
While we have detailed all of the drama that has led to this match-up, readers are surely here to read about the action that has taken place thus far. As the poker world anxiously awaits the next chapter in the Berkey vs Airball grudge match, get caught up on what has happened so far below!
Editor’s Note: While the entire poker community wishes this head’s-up match was live-streamed, unfortunately the spectacle will not be available for public viewing. Due to the reliance on a variety of second-hand source, certain details from various hands may differ between sources and from what actually occurred. Regardless, we will be doing our due diligence to provide the most accurate updates as possible. Enjoy the article!
Matt Berkey vs Nik Airball High Stakes Duel Day #1
On Saturday, April 1st (of course this match began on April Fool’s Day), Matt Berkey and Nik Airball rendezvoused in the Resorts World poker room to begin the first session of their high stakes, head’s-up grudge match.
The biggest hand of the first session took place later in the day. Despite buying in for $100,000 compared to Nik Airball’s $500,000, Matt Berkey had been playing well and had evened the stacks to about $400,000 each. With both players playing incredibly deep, the stage was set for a massive hand to take place.
Nik Airball Rivers A Flush Against Matt Berkey
With both players sitting approximately 500 big blinds deep, Berkey raised $2,000 first-to-act and was three-bet $7,000 by Nik Airball who held 7♠-5♠. Berkey made the call taking it to the flop.
Preflop Action – Playing Suited Gappers Head’s-Up
While it may seem strange for Nik Airball to three-bet with low, suited gappers, it is important to remember that head’s-up preflop ranges are vastly different from the ranges you would use in a full-ring poker game. Hands like suited gappers have much more strength when facing only one opponent. While a seven-high flush has the potential to be beat by a better flush in a nine-handed poker game, the odds of being bested by a better flush go down drastically head’s-up.
Flop Action – Continuation Betting With Draws
Flopping a flush draw, Nik Airball led out with a $4,800 bet and was called by Berkey.
With his flopped flush draw, Nik Airball was in a fine position to lead out with the small continuation bet. Even if he was raised by Berkey, he would have been in an okay position to call the raise and pursue his flush draw on the next street.
Turn Action – Considering Your Opponent’s Raising Range
Despite the 2♦ serving as a brick on the turn, Nik Airball continued firing making a $15,000 bet. Although Airball had yet to hit his flush, he was in a fine position to continue betting as he had a good draw and could have forced hands ahead of him to fold.
Facing the $15,000 bet, Berkey responded with a $50,000 raise. Even though he held the flush draw, Airball should have considered folding in this spot as not only was Berkey likely ahead, but he had plenty of better spade flush draws in his range. Being the loose, action player he is, Airball made the call.
River Action – Does Nik Airball Have The Better Flush?
Hitting his flush on the river, Airball executed a polarized $150,000 overbet, showing no fear of his veteran opponent. Despite the fact he should likely be checking almost every hand in his range, Airball got the call from Berkey. Seeing that his nemesis had the better hand, Berkey mucked his hand as Airball collected the largest pot of the session.
Nik Airball vs Matt Berkey Day 1 Recap
Despite taking down the biggest pot of the day worth $424,000, Nik Airball would still be behind at the end of Day One. Along with losing $133,500 over the course of the session, Airball would also garner much speculation when it was reported by Matt Berkey and Team Solve For Why that Airball had been making frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the course of the session.
Although Airball claimed the frequent bathroom trips were due to hydration, when Berkey happened to use the bathroom himself, he recounted that Airball was on the phone discussing the match with ally Thomas “BrownBalla” Balla. While Berkey is the only source reporting the alleged “secret bathroom meetings”, it can be confirmed Airball took frequent breaks away from the table, often after losing big hands.
The continued controversy and accusations did not shock poker fans as they anxiously waited for additional updates on the grudge match via social media. Regardless of who went to the bathroom when and if there were actually “secret meetings” taking place, Berkey was the clear victor in the first session.
End Of Day One
Total Hours Played: 6.5
Overall Results: Matt Berkey +$133,500
Matt Berkey vs Nik Airball High Stakes Duel Day #2
On the second day of play, both poker players returned to Resorts World to continue the action-packed weekend. Up well above six-figures after the first day of play, poker’s biggest yinzer, Matt Berkey, was surely feeling confident as he sat across from Nik Airball.
Despite frequent bathroom breaks continuing to take place throughout the session, both players found a way to create some exciting moments in between each “secret meeting”.
Matt Berkey Stacks Nik Airball With A Rivered Straight
Early in Day Two of the grudge match, chips started flying as both players looked down at premium hands preflop. Holding J♥-J♦, Nik Airball raised $1,200 preflop and was met by a $6,000 three-bet from Matt Berkey who held A♦-K♥. Not afraid of aggression, Airball four-bet $16,000 and was met again with another raise, with Berkey five-betting $40,000. Following a call from Airball, both players witnessed an action flop.
At these stack sizes, the aggressive bets from both players was perfectly standard for head’s-up play. With how shallow the stacks became prior to the flop, both Airball and Berkey could have even considered moving all-in preflop. Holding A-K offsuit and facing a “LAG” opponent, Berkey could have strategically elected to simply move all-in preflop to avoid having to play the postflop out-of-position. Along with not having to play out-of-position, moving all-in would have kept Airball from realizing his equity if Berkey happened to pair his ace or king.
Flop Action: Nik Airball Gets Coolered By Matt Berkey
First to act on the flop, Berkey led out with a tiny $10,000 leaving just under $60,000 behind.
Holding a flopped set, Airball jammed his $70,000 remaining stack and got the call from Berkey. Well ahead of his opponent’s top pair-top kicker, Airball declined when Berkey asked if they could run it twice. Nik Airball would regret declining Berkey’s offer for two boards when the 10♦ arrived on the river.
Being sucked out by Berkey’s rivered straight, Airball Nik was down an additional $110,000.
Considering both player’s play on the flop, one made an interesting play while the other made a straightforward one. Leading out with a tiny $10,000 bet with top pair-top kicker, Berkey’s bet sizing was certainly a unique one, and could have been motivated by being short stacked with only having $70,000 left behind.
Flopping a set and having a stack less than the pot, Airball’s all-in move was the correct, standard play. While he would be crushed by the Q-Q and K-K in Berkey’s range, he was also ahead of ace-king and pocket aces as well. In spots like this, yes, sometimes your opponents are going to have you beat, but if your hand is strong enough you must be willing to put all of your chips in the middle when necessary.
Nik Airball vs Matt Berkey Day 2 Recap
Despite being down over $200,000 at one point during day two of the grudge match, Nik Airball would claw his way back and finished the day even with his adversary Matt Berkey. Although Airball may have attributed his comeback to his natural ability and poker skills, Berkey’s pupil Landon Tice alleged he may have received some assistance from others. At the end of the day, Berkey’s overall lead remained at $133,500, and Tice’s “secret meeting” counter stood at roughly 6.
End Of Day Two
Total Hours Played: 13
Day Two Results: Even
Overall Results: Matt Berkey +$133,500
Matt Berkey vs Nik Airball High Stakes Duel Day #3
It was Monday, April 3rd, and both Matt Berkey and Nik Airball were ready to continue battling on the felt before the match recessed for four days. Wanting to further his lead before Airball had a chance to study head’s-up strategy through the week, Berkey was ready to let the chips fly. Despite his best intentions, Berkey would eventually realize Lady Luck had different plans for him.
Nik Airball Gets A Rivered Straight Of His Own
First to act preflop, Matt Berkey raised $1,000 and was met with a $5,000 three-bet from Nik Airball who held Q♥-J♥. Berkey made the call.
While Airball’s three-bet may have seemed large, when playing super deep stacked such raise sizes are perfectly fine, especially when playing with a linear range out of position.
Flop Action – Nik Airball Has Nothing But Air
Nik Airball’s preflop three-betting range connected incredibly well with the king-high board, making the $3,300 continuation bet he made perfectly fine and standard.
Witnessing the call from Berkey, Airball should have considered the wide calling range Berkey would have on this board. With only queen-high and noting Berkey’s wide calling range, Airball should have been prepared to fire multiple streets and bluff. Having potentially received some insights in the Resorts World bathroom, Airball was ready to keep firing on fourth street.
Turn Action – Airball Continues To Barrel
Much like the king on the flop, the ace on the turn connected incredibly well with Nik Airball’s preflop range. Only having queen-high, Airball’s range connectivity with the board may suggest he was in a proper position to keep barreling and bluffing, but that was not the case.
On the flop, a lot of the junk in Berkey’s range was removed when he called Airball’s continuation bet. Despite having more aces in his range on the turn, it was important for Airball to consider that Berkey likely had a decent hand at the least. Airball should have had some checks in his range, but was he in a position to properly continue barreling on the turn?
When looking for hands to bluff with, Airball should have considered bluffing with hands that could improve to the nuts on the river or lacked showdown value. Only having queen-high but also drawing to the nut-straight, Airball was in a reasonable spot to keep firing, and did so with a $18,000 bet.
After getting called again by Berkey, Airball should have recognized his opponent had a strong hand. A-3, A-6, and a set of sixes were well within Berkey’s range, meaning Airball should have considered proceeding carefully if he did not improve on the river. Fortunately for him, he improved a lot.
River Action – Nik Airball Shoves With The Nuts For Five Times The Pot!
Nailing the absolute nuts on the river, it was time for Nik Airball to do whatever he could to get some value out of Matt Berkey. While some poker players may have elected to go for a medium size in hopes of attracting a call, Airball had other plans, deciding to make the 5x pot raise for his whole $248,700 stack. Some people may think this was an absurd move by Airball, but I like the play! On the river, Airball should be going all-in with the nuts or with hands that block the nuts. Obviously, Airball had the nuts, and sent Berkey straight into the tank with his massive river shove.
Contemplating his options on the river, Berkey was surely considering all of the footage he had seen of Nik Airball making wild plays at the poker table. The board represented a spot that most players drastically under bluff, but what bluff catchers could Berkey have that could rationally call such a large bet?
Berkey was in a terrible spot, and after thinking for some time, called revealing pocket sixes for a flopped set. Despite having a nutted hand on the flop, Berkey would be runner-runnered by his opponent.
Nik Airball vs Matt Berkey Day 3 Recap
Matt Berkey had been up nearly $400,000 on the session, but after Nik Airball capitalized on his runner-runner straight scooping the massive $550,000 pot, the high stakes veteran lost much of his momentum and took a major hit to his overall lead. Berkey’s mood would only get worse when his flopped straight flush lost to Airball’s rivered royal flush. Luckily for Berkey, it was reported that he only had approximately $30,000 behind at the time.
Photo Courtesy of @The_Brownballa
As the dust settled and play concluded for the week, Berkey lost six figures on the day but still maintained the overall lead in the head’s-up grudge match.
End Of Day Three
Total Hours Played: 20
Day Three Results: Nik Airball +$100,000
Overall Results: Matt Berkey +$33,500
Play Set To Resume April 8th, More Updates To Come
The “head’s-up match for rolls” between Matt Berkey and Nik Airball is set to resume Saturday, April 8th at the Resorts World poker room. While both players take a few days off to rest and review head’s-up charts and hand histories, poker fans everywhere will excitedly anticipate what comes next from the poker grudge match.
As the action unfolds, we will continue to keep poker fans updated on the results as well as breakdown hands played between the two high stakes players. Be sure to stay up to date on all of the action from Nik Airball vs Matt Berkey right here on the PokerCoaching.com Blog.